Monet discovered in addition to finding some inspiring landscape artists in London that the city had other delights on offer, such as … smog.
For a man interested in diffused light, London’s thick, unhealthy, winter fog – made up of a chilly mist mixed with the coal smoke billowing out of the city’s forest of chimneys – was a wonder to behold.
He would spend hours on the banks of the river Thames near the Houses of Parliament in central London, perched on a small stool, painting a city at work.
His efforts yielded a series of hauntingly beautiful impressionistic paintings, which perfectly capture the mood of the time and place. The Paris Salon might not have liked them much, but I do.
The Thames Below Westminster (1871) might appear to be a traditional, almost hackneyed London scene to today’s viewer, but at the time Monet painted the landscape, it was ultra modern.
The ghostly blue-grey presence of the Houses of Parliament in the background, rising up out of the Thames like a distant gothic castle, was not yet a familiar sight, having only just been completed after fire had destroyed the old Palace of Westminster in 1834 (an event captured by Turner in his painting The Burning of the House of Lords and Commons). New too was Westminster Bridge (also in the distance), which cuts across the middle of the picture like a strip of dirty lace.
In the foreground, to the right of the painting, workmen are building a new pier. It is being attached to the recently created Victoria Embankment, a pedestrian walkway running along the north side of the Thames, designed for London’s burgeoning middle class to promenade along at the weekends. State-of-the-art steam tugboats are busy on the water.
If Monet had visited London a decade earlier, much of what he depicted in 1871 would not have existed.
Much thanks to Will Gompertz’s book What Are You Looking At….some of the blog is directly taken from this fantastic book.